Certainly one of the primary draws to online education is the flexibility that it offers. Online learning may also be more cost-effective; many public universities will charge in-state tuition to their online students, regardless of their location.
However, getting a degree online isn't always the right choice. If you are interested in a research-intensive subfield like cognitive psychology or biopsychology, then a fully online degree may not be the best fit. Likewise, a program in a health services psychology subfield frequently requires patient contact hours that may be difficult to meet in a fully online program.
Also consider whether an online program is the right fit for your learning preferences. Can you stay motivated and on schedule even without weekly class meetings?
There are two main types of online classes:
- Online courses typically require no face-to-face meetings.
- Blended/hybrid courses meet partially in person and partially online. A hybrid degree program may include fully online courses and/or blended/hybrid courses, but would require some face-to-face education as well.
Course content may be delivered in real time (i.e., live-streaming of lectures, participation via video conference) or asynchronously (i.e., prerecorded lectures, independent reading, participation in online discussion boards or blogs). Some online degree programs will also have students come to campus for brief (one week or so) intensive sessions, often in the summer.
The APA Commission on Accreditation currently does not accredit online-only doctoral programs. Some accredited programs may offer online courses or other content via distance education in an adjunctive role. These courses cannot represent a substantial nature of program content and certain classes (e.g., practicum) are not considered appropriate for this instructional method. Any online courses in accredited programs should be noted as such in public materials.
At the doctoral level, the APA Commission on Accreditation reviews programs in clinical, counseling and school psychology, as well as programs that offer education in a combination of these three areas. CoA does not review or accredit bachelor's or master's programs, nor does it review doctoral programs in on-practice subfields. For more information on accreditation, please visit our FAQ on choosing a program.
As with any graduate program, carefully consider what your career goals are and evaluate how each program matches with them. When researching graduate programs, there are a few important questions that you should ask to determine which program is best suited for you.
In addition, there are special considerations when researching online graduate programs:
- Is your school accredited by an agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation?
- What level of access will you have to library resources, academic advisors, career counselors and other campus-based services?
- How much access will you have to faculty and other department resources?
- If your program requires a practicum and/or internship experience, will the department assist you in finding an appropriate placement in your community?
- If your program emphasizes professional practice, will attending an online program cause problems when applying for licensure? (Some states require that your university be regionally accredited in order to apply for licensure.)
As with any school, you should carefully research the level of support you can receive to pay for your education (including tuition remission, research or teaching assistantships, scholarships and financial aid). Usually students who take at least two classes per term are eligible for federal financial aid.